December 8, 2012 6:09:45 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Even two generations ago, most Mississippians knew how to grow a garden, sew, and fix things around the home and farm. Somewhere along the way, though, society bought into a fast-food, gadget-cluttered world that gradually eroded much of that independent self-sufficiency. Alison and Dr. Mike Buehler of Starkville hope to change that with the launch of the Mississippi Modern Homestead Center.
With more than 40 workshops already scheduled in everything from Sourdough Basics and Woodworking to Knitting with Kids and the Great Goat Experience, the center will be a hive of learning when the new year begins. The public can get a sneak peak Dec. 15 when the Homestead at 402 Lake Valley Road opens its doors for a Homemade Holiday Bazaar from 9 a.m. to noon and Open House from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"It's very unique, very Mississippi -- a place to showcase what's best about our culture and people, about our heritage," said Alison Buehler. "These traditions are fading, and if we don't grab them before they're gone ... " her voice trailed away. Her meaning was clear.
Tucked back on six quiet acres in western Oktibbeha County, the 5,000-square-foot Homestead Center lodge blends into the umber autumn landscape. Until recently, it was the Buehler's home. It's known by many as " the old Bouchillon place," designed and built by Charles Bouchillon of Starkville. The Homestead was the setting for a recent farm-to-table fundraiser featured in the September issue of Mississippi magazine.
Today the lakefront property is dotted with gardens, nature trails, a small orchard, bee hives and chickens -- an inviting place for re-centering and reclaiming some practical know-how.
The Buehler's passion for getting back to basics is not new. The couple led the way in establishing the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi and still serve on that board. They have discovered there is a growing, creative network of people with a re-awakening interest in sustainable living.
The Homestead illustrates an expanding trend toward agritourism. It's the fastest growing sector of agriculture in the state, according to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.
Farms, historic plantations, old country stores, museums and other locations are inviting visitors to explore Mississippi and its ever-evolving agricultural heritage.
It was the recently-passed Senate Bill 2439, enacted to provide limited liability to people engaged in agritourism activities, that cleared the way for the Homestead to proceed full steam ahead.
"The support from the state made this a reality," said Buehler. "It was so important that Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith got the limited liability law passed; that was really the kicker for us to be able to do this."
With five classrooms -- including an art space, kitchen, meeting room, outdoor classroom and kid-friendly classroom -- the Homestead is well-suited to learning in a comfortable, inviting environment. In addition, the lodge can sleep up to 20 people for retreats, church group outings and a variety of events. A Women's Wellness Weekend Retreat is already set for Jan. 11-13.
With a strong focus on folk arts, Buehler hopes the Homestead will also serve as a business incubator for people who produce their own products, enhancing the center's economic impact in the community.
Passing it on
On Tuesday, workshop teachers Lindsay Wilson, Nancy Woodruff and Marion Sansing joined Buehler in the lodge's great room to talk about their mutual enthusiasm for passing on traditional life skills for modern households. The sound of hammers drifted up from downstairs, where Mike Buehler and his father, Charles Buehler, were hard at work getting the children's area ready for open house.
Wilson will teach nutrition from a traditional perspective, basic herbal preparation and yoga. She's also the keynote speaker for January's Wellness Retreat.
"I love herbs, I love plants, I love food, and I feel it's important to bring these things into our lives -- for personal health, family health and the health of the community," the Louisville native said.
Woodruff and Sansing, who is the former executive director of Gaining Ground, look forward to one of their first classes, Nourishing Traditions for the Contemporary Table, complete with a four-course meal. In it, they'll share information on local sources for quality produce, meats and dairy.
"We all really want to provide a nurturing place of support, guidance and esteem for people as they transition and take on new skills to lead a meaningful life," Wilson emphasized.
The great outdoors
In addition to the Great Goat Experience, plenty of outdoor workshops are planned, like Backyard Chicken Keeping, Homegrown Mushrooms, The Secret's in the Soil, Raised Bed Gardening and more.
Sam McLemore of Starkville will teach many of the gardening sessions. If he's not growing vegetables, he's usually teaching someone else how to coax them from the earth. The former landscape contractor runs a Community Supported Agriculture network of families who receive weekly deliveries of food and products grown or made locally.
"I think the Homestead Center is a great idea; I'm excited to be a part of it," he said, promising that workshop participants are in for abundant hands-on learning.
Opening the Homestead is the realization of a dream for Alison Buehler, one inspired in part by sites such as the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., and other initiatives that encourage the continuity of life skills and folk arts that add to family, to community, to society.
"I was very fortunate that I'm married to a man who helped make my dream come true," she said. "I think there's a real hunger for learning these things. We really want this to be a community resource."
Editor's note: Learn more about the Mississippi Modern Homestead, its workshops and facilities, at msmodernhomestead.com and facebook.com/MSHomestead, or contact Alison Buehler at 662-694-0124. Email her at [email protected]
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.